Kabongo leaner going into season

Patrick Kabongo of the Edmonton Eskimos trains at Athletes Nation in St. Albert, Alta. on Friday....

Patrick Kabongo of the Edmonton Eskimos trains at Athletes Nation in St. Albert, Alta. on Friday. Kabongo recently weighed in 76 pounds lighter than his playing weight last season. (CODY McLACHLAN/QMI Agency)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:59 PM ET

EDMONTON - A couple of years ago, Patrick Kabongo was like a Big Gizmo, a super-sized version of Henry Williams.

He’s was the friendly giant, an oversized teddy bear who didn’t know how to say no and was adored by kids and adults alike. He was the most huggable Edmonton Eskimo of all — if you could get your arms around him.

But last season, Kabongo was a turnstile on Ricky Ray’s blind side and when it was revealed at mid-season that fired general manager Danny Maciocia had signed the left guard to the second-highest salary on the team behind the guy he was supposed to be protecting, Kabongo was more a Big Fizmo.

Only days ago I wrote in this column that there was a very short list of starters who could go into training camp with their names written into the same starting spots on the depth chart for this season in pen.

Kabongo’s name was on this list. But with a rider.

“The highly overpaid Mr. Kabongo better show some signs he’s going to come to camp hungry to have a bounce-back year to include his name,” was how it was phrased.

Turns out the first sign will be evident Saturday when Kabongo shows up for training camp medical day.

“I can’t remember ever being more proud of a player. Patrick was challenged by Kavis Reed and he’s lost more than 50 pounds in five months!” general manager Eric Tillman responded.

“He weighed in at about 315 the other day!

“We couldn’t be happier. I’m so proud of Kavis for demanding excellence, and I’m even prouder of Patrick for responding. In doing so, Patrick has demonstrated a total commitment to helping build us a winner.”

Actually it’s way more than 50 pounds said Kavis Reed.

“He was 389 pounds.

“After watching film of him, it was obvious he was not playing at the level he had previously played. At 389 he could not move like he used to be able to move.

“I told him if he didn’t report to camp at 325 or less, we were not going to have him on this team!”

Point blank. No sugar coating.

“It was amazing. He’s gone from 389 to 313.”

That’s 76 pounds!

That’s almost as much as some kickers weigh.

Reed said he’s going to camp with great expectations for Kabongo.

“I expect him to be a dominant offensive guard like he was four years ago. And if he struggles he knows I’m going to be the first one all over him, the first one to call him out on it,” added his new head coach.

“I met Kavis in January and that’s the challenge he gave me,” said Kabongo of his new head coach.

“He challenged me to give everything I’ve got to the organization which has cared about me. I took up that challenge.

“I know what I need to do and I plan to go out and do it.

“I’ve committed to Kavis and to the team. I’ve committed to every guy. I’ve committed to Ricky Ray.

“I’m committed to protecting Ricky Ray.

“I’m committed to everybody on the offensive line.

“I’m committed to block for Daniel Porter and Arkee Whitlock,” he said of the running backs.

“I committed to come in tip top shape and to stay in tip top shape all season.”

Kabongo was ready to head down that road when Reed challenged him.

“Last year was tough. There were a lot of people pointing fingers. Before last year, nobody was doing that.”

Kabongo took a long drive at the end of the season to examine himself.

“I went to see my best friend in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I could have flown but I decided to take a big drive and meditate. There’s a lot of time to think on a long drive like that. There was time to look back on some of the things I have done.”

He also had time to reflect on the kids who are his biggest fans.

“They see me on TV and they see me as being so big. I love to go speak to kids. That’s the biggest impact I want from the game. That’s the most important one. You can change a life.”

It was for those kids, too, that Patrick Kabongo decided to turn over a new leaf.

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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